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Treasurer looks to ‘resilience’ budget

Treasurer Jim Chalmers. Photo: Facebook.

For Treasurer Jim Chalmers, this week’s jobs and skills summit is the prelude to what will be his main game, the October budget, writes MICHELLE GRATTAN.

Michelle Grattan.

THE jobs summit, to be held in Canberra on Thursday and Friday, still has many moving parts, notably in the intense debate we’re hearing about what changes should be made to the wages system.

But Chalmers can already welcome “a broad appetite” for raising permanent migration from the present cap of 160,000.

“We’ve got these skills and labour shortages running rampant through our economy,” he says. “So we need to move on this front, as well as other fronts simultaneously – not as a substitute for doing something meaningful on skills and training, but in addition to doing that”.

He accepts that boosting immigration will impose pressures, notably on housing. “That’s why I’ve been speaking a lot in the last week or so about housing, trying to work with the super funds and other big investors to see where we can incentivise some more investment in housing.”

On skills and training, Anthony Albanese will speak to premiers on Wednesday about “some of the things we might be able to advance”.

Ahead of the summit, Chalmers has been pleasantly surprised he’s had to do less beating back demands than he’d expected. “I thought that there was a risk that I’d just be sent a whole bunch of invoices for big, expensive policy ideas and asked to sort it out.” But people had recognised the constraints of the debt situation and that everything couldn’t be funded.

So for him, “there’s been less of the saying no, and there’s been more facilitating really productive conversations.”

Looking to the budget, Chalmers says it will be “very workmanlike” and not a great surprise packet. “I think it will be a budget where people know what’s coming.”

Despite calls for the government’s childcare package to be brought forward, Chalmers says the start date will remain at July next year. Acceleration was ruled out because of expense and possible operational difficulties.

He has an “open mind” on allowing older people to work more without losing their pension but “we would need to make sure that the costs would be worth it”.

“A theme of the budget will be around resilience – at a personal level, the community level, and at the national level,” Chalmers says.

A decade of conflict and “warped priorities” has made the Australian economy and its people more vulnerable to international shocks and health shocks, he says. “So my job, as I see it, and our job as a government is to take a community and an economy and a budget which is more vulnerable than it should be and to make it more resilient.

“And that’s why implementing our commitments, providing cost of living relief, trying to get value for money in the budget, dealing with the issues in the labour market [are] all so important.”

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra. This article is republished from The Conversation.

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Michelle Grattan

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